The Freedom From Religion Foundation has stopped Oklahoma middle school kids from being forced to regularly listen to Christian music during the school day.
A concerned parent informed FFRF that teachers at Adair Middle School were playing Christian music during class. One teacher reportedly played KXOJ, the local Christian radio station, any time that students were working on assignments and she wasn't actively teaching. Another teacher occasionally played Christian music in class and sang along with it.
It is inappropriate for a public school teacher to promote religion during class, FFRF informed Adair Public Schools.
"Federal courts have consistently rejected the promotion of religious viewpoints in the classroom," FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Adair Public Schools Superintendent Mark Lippe. "Courts have upheld the termination of teachers who refuse to remain neutral on matters of religion while acting in their official capacities as government employees."
The teachers' actions created the impression that the school, and, by extension, the district endorse the exclusively Christian messages expressed in their music selection, FFRF contended. The school district had a duty to ensure that "subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion," to quote the U.S. Supreme Court, or use their positions of authority to promote a particular religious viewpoint.
FFRF emphasized that public school teachers should be inclusive of all students, particularly considering that about 35 percent of young Americans, those born after 1981, are religiously unaffiliated, while more than 43 percent are non-Christian. Demonstrating a religious preference to students is fraught with legal and moral peril, including the risk of ostracizing students, which may lead to bullying, FFRF underlined.
FFRF requested that the district take appropriate steps to ensure that the two teachers weren't impermissibly promoting religion to students by broadcasting Christian music and recommended that the district remind its staff that they must refrain from promoting their personal religious beliefs to students.
The school district took FFRF's recommendations seriously and moved accordingly.
"It is the policy of Adair Public Schools that no sectarian or religious doctrine shall be taught or inculcated into the curriculum or activities of the school," Lippe wrote back. "During the middle school October staff meeting, the staff was trained on school policy concerning sectarian or religious doctrine in the curriculum or activities of the school. School employees will not utilize religious music in classrooms unless such use serves a pedagogical purpose related to a lesson plan in band or choir."
FFRF is delighted that its exertions brought about real change.
"Sometimes it takes a bit of nudging on our part for public schools to abide by the First Amendment," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We're glad once the district was informed about the teachers' violations, it wasn't tone-deaf to the law."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with roughly 30,000 members across the country, including in Oklahoma. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.